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Merchants brainstorm ways to keep dollars in Ceres
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The city generates about $4.9 million annually from the taxable transactions that occur within the geographical boundaries of Ceres. A group of Ceres merchants recently examined specifically how those taxes are generated as well as bounced around ideas to generate more sales for the sake of their own businesses and the city's general fund.

Over morning coffee, the Ceres Chamber of Commerce pulled together merchants at Supermom's Frozen Yogurt on Friday, March 21 to talk about economic development.

City officials noted that the $4,867,541 in sales tax goes into the general fund, which mostly goes toward police and fire department expenses. The merchants learned that the biggest generator of sales taxes are service stations, which account for 19 percent, followed by department stores which generate 16 percent. Walmart is the heavy leader in that category. Restaurants and energy sales both account for 10 percent apiece, while building materials retailers contributed six percent. Food markets account for five percent. Sales of electronic equipment, heavy industry chips and auto parts/repair each chip in 3 percent. New auto sales contributes just two percent.

The Mitchell Road corridor generates $1.25 million, while Hatch Road corridor slightly more at $1.29 million. By contrast the Whitmore corridor generates $401,758.

"It was very informative as to where the sales tax monies are coming from," said Ceres Chamber of Commerce president Renee Ledbetter. "Obviously we are trying to look into ways of keeping people from shopping outside of the area."

Those present talked about the possibility of getting merchants to work on a pact to offer member to member discounts for products and services. Also discussed was an idea to have Ceres businesses work together to promote each other's products. Ledbetter gave the example of having Ceres businesses offer only Bronco Winery or Gallo Winery products versus wines produced in Lodi or other areas.

"We'll be asking restaurants where they buy local produce and beverages and asking them to partner with local providers."

Ledbetter said that an education campaign will need to take place to get Ceres residents to think twice before spending money elsewhere, such as doing business with Ceres insurance agents and food markets.

"These are decisions we as citizens need to think about. Obviously it's going to take more than the Chamber to convince people to shop local."

The Ceres City Council will be asked to talk about ways of joining the Chamber's Shop Local campaign and how the city's new economic development director might assist.

Ledbetter, who is also a local real estate agent, said she is always doing what she can to draw in business. She said she considered the new bike paths in Ceres and how there are no bike dealers in town. When she asked one Modesto shop owner if he thought about expanding into Ceres, Ledbetter was told that she was days late since a decision to expand to a third shop already centered on a Modesto site.

Ledbetter feels that Ceres is often overlooked by Stanislaus County businesses which are considering expanding.

"They don't think of Ceres more because we are overshadowed by Modesto and Turlock," she said.

The Chamber is planning to do a needs assessment survey with the help of the Stanislaus Alliance to see what small businesses need to remain competitive.

She also would like to see Ceres residents with time on their hands to volunteer to help the Chamber, whether it's to make contact with local businesses or help in the Chamber's planned clean-up of Highway 99.

"We just need to make economic development our priority and go do it."

While Ledbetter wants to see larger companies come into Ceres, the lack of shovel ready sites could be problematic for the short term. She has a vision for Ceres to attract unique stores not offered elsewhere in the vicinity.

Since Ceres is in the heart of agriculture with processing facilities abounding, Ledbetter feels Ceres could be ripe for industries that manufacture ag equipment.